The Presbyterian Church of East Africa: An Account of Its Gospel Missionary Society Origins, 1895-1946

By Lonsdale, John | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

The Presbyterian Church of East Africa: An Account of Its Gospel Missionary Society Origins, 1895-1946


Lonsdale, John, The Catholic Historical Review


African The Presbyterian Church of East Africa: An Account of Its Gospel Missionary Society Origins, 1895-1946. By Evanson N. Wamagatta. [American University Studies, Series VLI: Theology and Religion, Vol. 290.] (New York: Peter Lang. 2009- Pp. xx, 251. $76.95. ISBN 978-1-433-10596-8.)

This book, which originated as a PhD dissertation for the University of West Virginia, is a study in missionary failure. After a half-century of work the Gospel Missionary Society, the only mission in colonial Kenya not to have founded an African church, had to merge with the Church of Scotland Mission, one of Kenya's most successful and the parent of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, now with more than 4 million members. There were many reasons for the GMS's failure, but one was fundamental- its origin in a tiny, conservative evangelical church in New England that with great faith but less wisdom founded missionary enterprises in no less than three continents. The work of the GMS in Central Kenya was never free of financial constraints. Its few American missionaries- thin on the ground, often ill, and lacking home leave- showed extraordinary devotion, as did their early Kikuyu converts and evangelists who could have found much better paid employment elsewhere. But missionary devotion can inspire a retentive paternalism as much as strategic generosity; moreover, the missionaries' pre-millennialist beliefs placed less store on church-building than on evangelization. Wamagatta also notes the striking contrast between the two main British Protestant mission societies at work in Central Kenya (the Anglican Church Missionary Society and the Presbyterian Scots Mission, which early ordained an African clergy) and the two American societies (the Africa Inland Mission and the GMS, which did not)- the former had long imperial experience to draw upon; the latter did not.

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